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Confessions of a Carbon Addict

You’ve worked hard this year, and you’ve earned your break. But getting from home to that seaside resort has never been more punishing on the environment, nor has the environment ever needed the extra carbon less. Leonie Joubert fesses up.

“Hello. My name is Leonie, and I’m responsible for global warming.”

“Hello Leonie!” the circle of faces choruses in support. At the back of the hall, the urn bubbles its encouragement, setting the teacups trembling as it shakes the table and puffs out a column of conciliatory steam.

I smile back at my fellow carbon addicts. I feel safe here, amongst others who, like me, are trying to decarbonise one painful day at a time. The overhead light casts a gloomy yellow over everyone’s heads. Outside, a car roars past, its rusty exhaust coughing angrily into the night.

“I’ve been really good for the past year or so… I’m trying to cut back on my energy use. But being a carbon junkie isn’t like being a drug addict. You can live without a hit of cocaine. You can’t live without energy to cook dinner, or fuel to drop the kids off at school!”

A sage communal nod from everyone; one or two grunts of appreciation.

“I’ve started recycling! And I’ve replaced some of the lights at home with low energy bulbs.”

A soft cheer.

“And now that I work from home, my transport related emissions are way down! I only do about seven thousand k’s a year in my car. My carbon footprint is down to about six and a half tons per year… that’s three and a half tons below our national, per-person average.”

“Bravo!” from a gangly fellow at the back of the group. For a moment there I feel positively smug, utterly holier-than-thou, right up there on the moral high ground.

“But…” I stutter. That’s not the whole truth. There’s more.

The others holding their breath, waiting to hear how I’ve stumbled off the wagon.

“I… um… that carbon footprint is just for my domestic energy use. It’s my work-related travel that pushes me way up above the average.”

My eyes drop to the floor.

“I’ve put nearly six tons of carbon up into the atmosphere this year alone, travelling around by airplane for work. I’ve done ten domestic flights… one international.”

The shame of it! Even the urn stops boiling for a moment, as if sucking in its breath in shock.

Our group leader gives me a sympathetic look, but someone else, a new face to the group, shakes her head disapprovingly. I avoid her gaze.

“It gets worse… but I suppose you’re going to find out eventually.”

Now I make eye contact, daring the others to challenge me.

“My husband and I are flying up to Kwa-Zulu Natal to spend Christmas with my family. I know, it’s wrong, but I’ve worked hard this year. I’ve earned a break! I know it’ll mean nearly another half ton of carbon in the atmosphere, but it’s the only time we get to be with my family!” I bleat, pleading with them not to condemn me.

The environmentalist and author George Monbiot calls this kind of travel “love miles” – all those air miles flying long- and short-haul, hopping across continents and countries, to be with our family during the holiday seasons.

I know this, but I just need to have this one slip, this one transgression. After all, it’s holiday season and everyone’s doing it. Just one quick domestic flight can’t hurt, can it?

I sigh.

“The problem with finally admitting that you’re an addict… with facing up to it and calculating your carbon footprint, is that it forces you to confront your complicity in the global climate crisis. It makes you think about your over consumption and where you need to start shaving away the fat in your energy use.”

I feel drained.

“I know… I know it’s wrong to pollute so frivolously. But I’ll travel less by air next year,” I smile at the group, “I promise… Happy Christmas everyone!”

*This is a fictional account, but based on real carbon emissions facts. The author’s domestic emissions are accurately reflected in this story. To calculate your carbon footprint, go to www.project90x2030.org.za.

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